The mother of US journalist Austin Tice has accused Secretary of State Mike Pompeo of undermining efforts to free her son, who Washington believes has been detained by the Syrian government since 2012.
Debra Tice, in a statement published by the National Press Club in Washington, said her family was happy to hear President Donald Trump had sent a White House aide to Damascus in an attempt to secure Tice’s release.
“Unfortunately for Austin, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is undermining the president’s crucial outreach, refusing any form of direct diplomatic engagement with the Syrian government,” she said on Monday.
“President Trump is committed to seeing Austin walk free, whereas Secretary Pompeo is willing to accept his continued detention.”
Tice, a former US marine, was a freelance photojournalist working for AFP, the Washington Post, CBS and other news organisations when he disappeared on 14 August 2012 after being detained at a checkpoint near Damascus.
Trump wrote to Assad to help find missing US journalist Austin Tice: Pompeo
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Last week, Pompeo told reporters during a daily news briefing that the US would not “pay for the return of hostages”, and instead would work towards building a case for their return.
“We’ll continue to work for the return not only of Austin, but of every American that’s held. We’re not going to change American policy to do that,” Pompeo said.
His comments came after the Wall Street Journal reported that a White House official visited Damascus this year for secret meetings with the Syrian government seeking the release of Tice and another US citizen.
Trump has previously said that he asked Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government “to work with us to find and return Austin”.
“I am again calling on Syria to help us bring him home,” Trump said in August, marking the eighth anniversary of his disappearance.
“There is no higher priority in my administration than the recovery and return of Americans missing abroad. The Tice family deserves answers. We stand with the Tice family and will not rest until we bring Austin home.”
Syria erupted into civil war almost a decade ago after Assad began a brutal crackdown on protesters calling for an end to his family’s rule.
At least 137 journalists have since been killed while covering the conflict in Syria, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based watchdog.
Earlier this year, the US launched wide-ranging sanctions against Syria’s government under the Caesar Act, which was passed by Congress to pressure Assad into negotiations.